Heal Yourself Through Writing

Heal Yourself through Writing

Heal Yourself through Writing

~ A writing workshop with Nicole Olmsted ~

When: Sunday Nov. 9, 11h-15h

Where: English Yoga Berlin’s Kreuzberg yoga studio (click for map)

Cost: 30€ (20€ reduced)


“The hand is an expression of the heart therefore writing is an act of love.”

The power of storytelling is when we become aware that we create our own reality. It allows us to take responsibility for our life and to make choices towards our authentic self. When we react out of pain, confusion or fear, the story can lead down a hallow road but when we step towards our highest potential we have the ability to lead a heroic tale.

During this workshop, we will dive into techniques to heal your life through writing. We will go over the art of “Morning Pages,” a technique made famous through Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. We will use focused writing exercises to help shift perspectives of the past and create new ways of seeing your world. We will then recast your story by identifying archetypes to empower your sense of self. Rewriting yourself is part of the healing journey to discovering your greatest story.

About Nicole:
Growing up as a writer, she explored the different stories of life. In her youth, she wrote poetry of the vast beauty of nature and the fantasy of a hidden world. As a young adult, she wrote of romantic curses of young love and the exquisite pain of loss. She wrote what she experienced and what she hadn’t.
It was when she showed up for an Artist Way workshop, that her world began to make sense. It was being dedicated to the creative force and taking responsibility for the life she had written. What she found, is that the journey to your truth, is one of the most powerful stories of all. Now, building community through sharing these techniques and self awareness is part of her devotion to this work.

English Yoga Berlin offers yoga in English out of our Kreuzberg studio. We teach hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, yoga nidra, restorative yoga and classical yoga, and our classes include yoga asanas (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing) and meditation. Our emphasis is on community yoga and we strive to make our yoga classes as high quality, accessible and inclusive as possible, so that all members of our community can share the ways in which yoga benefits modern life. You can learn more about us here.


How to Develop your Personal Yoga Practice

Personal Yoga Practice

Personal Yoga Practice

For many people “doing yoga” means visiting a yoga studio and allowing themselves to be guided through some sequences and routines, without having to think too closely about what’s going on. Maybe it has something to do with our therapeutic culture, accustomed to experiencing well-being as something provided by a knowledgeable professional; or with our old tendency to transfer responsibility – to the doctor, to the legislator, to the child psychologist, to the yoga teacher… But given the popularity of yoga today, it is remarkable how few yogis practice yoga in daily life, on their own, in the quiet of their room.

That’s not too bad for us yoga teachers. After all, if everybody was doing yoga at home then we would struggle to make a living even more than we already do. But somehow, many of us are not comfortable with what we perceive as an unnecessary dependency. We certainly don’t what to stand between you and something as precious and important as your personal practice. Besides, we believe that if you had a regular home practice, you would get a lot more from your weekly studio visits, and make the yoga classes a little more challenging to us teachers.

In this blog we address some of the common questions we hear from people who are trying to establish and develop their home practice. There are no hard and fast answers when it comes to yoga, so please take the following lines as mere suggestions. This is why we include more than one answer to some of the queries. Be experimental – only you can find out what works for you.

Q. When is the best time to practice yoga?

A1. When you have time, naturally.   It makes no sense to rearrange your life to fit your yoga practice; it’s better to arrange your yoga practice to fit your life. So the first consideration when trying to decide a time for yoga is: When is it convenient? Ideally you would do it always at the same time, so that it more easily becomes a routine; but if your day’s schedule varies a lot (i.e. people with rotating working hours) then your yoga schedule must necessarily reflect that. One helpful way to deal with an uncertain weekly schedule is to set your yoga practice in relationship to a regular activity (e.g. after getting home from work, before going to bed, etc). In that way, you ensure that yoga fits in regardless of the actual times at which things happen.

A2. When your stomach is empty.   Having an empty stomach is one of the few rules of yoga practice. So it’s important to keep in mind your eating habits when deciding on a good time for doing yoga asanas. Schedule it before dinner, before lunch, or before breakfast. You can use your meals as a trigger for doing yoga, getting into the habit of hitting the mat before you hit the table.

A3. When there are fewer distractions.   It seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Schedule your practice around your friends’ visiting hours, or after the children go to school, or before your noisy flatmate returns from work. Let your yoga time follow the patterns of your environment and get on the mat when things are more calm and quiet. But beware of waiting for the perfect conditions! A good yoga session doesn’t depend on having a silent environment or on being left alone; it depends more on accepting the conditions as they are and experiencing your reactions without identifying with them. Meditation can happen anywhere.

A4. Anytime you need it.   Remember, yoga is not just bending and stretching on a mat, doing what we think of as yoga poses. You can, in fact, do your yoga in many situations throughout your day: just before an important meeting (coming earlier to the conference room and practicing a bit of pranayama or breath awareness to ground yourself); on the way home from work (sitting with eyes closed and listening to the sounds while riding the bus); during a little break from typing that long school report (doing the shoulder rotation or other upper-back loosening exercises while sitting at your desk)… yoga benefits are as varied as yoga practice, and the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Use your yoga as a tool to cope with the challenges of daily life. Make it gentle yoga or stronger stuff, and do it whenever you need it.

A5. Rather earlier than later.   If you want to establish a regular yoga routine, it might be best to schedule your practice earlier in the day. This way if some unforeseen event gets on the way of your practice, you may still find an opportunity to do some yoga before the day is over.

Q. How Long and How Frequently Should One Practice?

A.  Whatever doesn’t feel too ambitious.   Any discerning yoga teacher will tell you that it’s best to do a little often, than a lot seldom. One of the biggest obstacles to beginners who want to develop a regular practice is to be overambitious. We want to do two hours daily and reach enlightenment before next year’s high-school reunion. Well, it doesn’t quite work like that. Sure, you may have an iron will and plenty of time to dedicate to yoga, but for most of us, mere mortals, it’s more realistic to start with 15 to 20 minutes, twice or thrice a week. Remember, nobody is making any demands on you; just do enough so that it doesn’t become a burden. Listen to yourself: How much can you manage? How much do you want? This is something you do because you want to – not to uphold some ideal or become your own role-model. And, most importantly: don’t be swayed by a bad conscience or yoga guilt if you have taken a long break from yoga. Just get back to the practice whenever you feel like it.

Q. Where is a Good Place to Practice?

A1. Anywhere.  Just like you can practice yoga anytime (see the fourth answer to the first question), you can also do it anywhere. Lying in bed, just before going to sleep, you can do some rounds of the yogic breath. Sitting in a classroom, waiting for the next teacher to arrive, you can do the neck exercises. Hatha yoga poses are extremely flexible (ha, ha): standing by the kitchenette in a transatlantic flight is one of my favorite places to do the Stretching Palm, and you can do a great Eagle Arms sitting on the train.

A2. When at home, it’s good to have a dedicated space for doing yoga.   It doesn’t have to be a fancy place (I’ve been using the walk-in closet in our flat for some advanced do-in-the-dark meditations), nor does it have to be a zen hall (I often have to push my son’s toys to one side of the play room to do my asana practice). Any space will do, regardless of size and condition – of course, if you plan to do Savasana, it’s probably good that there’s enough room to lie down; if you plan to do the Hello Sun, the ceiling should be high enough to raise your arms; and if you want to practice a more dynamic form, like vinyasa yoga, it would probably be helpful to have a bit of space around you. But you can almost certainly find a space that is good enough, right in your home–just use your creativity.

A3. If you’re lucky enough to have your pick of room for yoga, choose a well-ventilated, non-cluttered space; somewhere relatively calm where people are not constantly walking by. The ability to lower the light or draw a curtain over the windows would enhance the more meditative/healing practices, such as Yoga Nidra or restorative yoga.

A4 Yoga outdoors is not often feasible in northern latitudes, but it’s also a possibility during the warm season. However, you may find that some breathing exercises and advanced meditations are more conveniently done indoors. Make your own experiences!

Q. What Should I Do?

A1. Do what you feel like doing, do what you like.  Your yoga session is no bitter medicine, it’s something you do to feel good, to enjoy yourself. Make it enjoyable and make it yours!

A2. Do two thirds of things that you like and one-third of things that you resist.   The things that you like will make you feel good and want to do it again soon; they things that you resist are probably what you most need.

A3. Do asana (physical poses), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation or relaxation.  In that order. Limiting your practice to just yoga asanas is like eating from only one food group – would you confine your diet to just carbohydrates?

A4. There are many resources you can tap for inspiration: YouTube, books, DVDs, etc. I would personally recommend my teacher’s book, one of the most concise and complete yoga manuals that exist today: Yoga Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life.

There are still many common questions, which we will try to answer in further posts. If you would like personal advice, or if you’re unsure how this all applies to you, contact us for more guidance.

English Yoga Berlin is a collective of teachers offering yoga in English from our yoga Berlin Kreuzberg studio. We offer hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, restorative yoga, classical yoga and yoga nidra. We specialize in community yoga and offer yoga for beginners through advanced. We look forward to practicing with you!

Yoga for Cyclists

Berlin is a city of cyclists. The combination of a well developed bike lane infrastructure, wide streets, relatively little traffic and very few hills is a hard one to beat. Perhaps the only drawback to cycling in this great city is the winter—it can get grey, wet, cold and generally miserable. But, as long-time Berliners will tell you, cycling through the winter is a great tool for keeping fit and fighting the seasonal depression that plagues the city from January till April.

We teach yoga in English, so we meet a lot of newcomers to Berlin, and we can tell you that, even if you weren’t a cyclist at home, you’ll probably become one in Berlin! And we think that riding your bike is a meditation style all its own. (Bonus points for singing as you ride.) Because we teach yoga in Berlin, we often end up teaching yoga for cyclists—yoga poses can really help ease sore muscles, lengthen tense calves and hamstrings, strengthen your back, increase lung capacity and generally get your body in shape for biking. Yoga asana are a great complementary practice for city and long distance cyclists.

In this blog post, we’d like to introduce some of our favourite yoga poses for cyclists. Yoga benefits your muscles, your breathing, your endurance and your concentration. It also relaxes you and helps you enjoy your life. We hope these yoga asana help you relish cycling in Berlin even more, and that they provide you with an opportunity to enjoy yoga in daily life.

These postures can be gentle yoga or more advanced yoga—you choose how long and how deep you want the stretch to go. They are also appropriate as yoga for beginners—just move slowly, breathe deeply and practice regularly.

Reclining Big Toe Pose/Supta Panangusthasana

hamstring stretch

Tight hamstrings and calves are almost inevitable when you start cycling. As your muscles strengthen, they’ll probably also become much tighter. Tight hamstrings can pull your lower back out of alignment—and you don’t want to go there! But you can counter this with regular stretching. The safest way to stretch the backs of your legs is while lying on your back.  Forward bends also stretch your hamstrings and calves, but most people with tight legs end up bending from their waist, and this stresses the lower back. It’s safer to start from the ground, and only progress into forward bends if you’re sure you have a strong core, no disc injuries and relatively long hamstring and calf muscles.

Simply lie on your back and extend one of your legs up towards the ceiling. You can keep the other leg lying flat, or you can bring the foot to the ground and bend the knee. With your raised leg, you can either point the toe to stretch the hamstring, or flatten your foot and press through your heel to stretch the calf. You can reach towards your big toe with the arm of the same side, if you like—that’s where the name of the pose comes from—but this takes a fair bit of flexibility. Just holding the leg there will be plenty for most people! Hold it for 1 to 3 minutes, and breathe deeply.

Kneeling Crescent Moon/Anjaneyasana

back bend kneeling crescent moonAaaah, tight hip flexors. A sure sign of time spent sitting—in a chair, or on your bike. Every time you pull your foot up and over the pedal, you’re using your hip flexor. If they get too tight, especially in combination with tight hamstrings and weak abdominals, they’ll contribute to lower back pain. But never fear! You just gotta lunge.

Start kneeling. Tip your pelvis so that your public bones are flush with your hips. (You can practice this against a wall to get the feeling of it. You want to feel your pubis and your hips both pressing forward.) Place your right foot forward, with the thigh parallel to the floor and the knee bent just over the ankle (not beyond). You can put something underneath your left knee if it feels sore. From here, engage your lower belly and draw your torso upwards, towards the ceiling. You’ll soon feel a pulling in the front of the left hip. That’s your hip flexor. Stay for 5-7 deep, long breaths, and then repeat on the other side.

Downward Facing Dog/Adhomukhasvanasana

downward-dog-juliWhether you’re sitting up or bending forward on your bike, you’re going to need to have a strong back. That means strong shoulders (this also helps protect you in case of accidents: if they’re not strong, the shoulders dislocate more easily when you brace yourself during a fall or impact), strong paraspinals and—very importantly—strong abdominals. Downward Dog, when practiced correctly and regularly, will help you strengthen your whole spine and make it easier to ride without pain.

Start with your knees on the ground and your arms stretched forward. Lengthen and straighten your back by bringing your ears between your upper arms and lifting your bum into the air. Tuck your toes under to give yourself traction and then, slowly and using your lower belly, exhale and push your bum into the air. Keep your back straight and your arms long. You can leave your knees bent if straightening your legs compromises having a straight back. Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears, let your neck be long and keep breathing, whatever you do! The posture will get easier with time.

Eagle Arms/Garudasana arms

EAGLE_ARMSHolding onto your handlebars takes a lot of work in the arms and shoulders, especially if you’re cycling into the wind or uphill. Over time, cycling will help you to develop a stronger upper body. You can minimize pain and discomfort by taking the time to check your alignment on the bike and stretching your shoulders and neck before and after riding.

Sitting comfortably in a chair or on a block, gently bring your elbows, forearms and palms together in front of your chest. Bend your elbows and bring your hands roughly to the height of your gaze. Press the elbows and forearms together and breathe into the space between your shoulder blades. If you want to go further, place your left elbow over your right, and wrap your forearms around each other, bringing your right fingers or palm to the left hand. Drop the shoulders and gently lift the elbows, or make circles slowly with the arms. Don’t forget to breathe. Repeat on the other side.

English Yoga Berlin is a collective of yoga teachers offering yoga classes in Berlin. If you’re looking for yoga in Berlin, we offer community yoga: accessible, affordable and high quality vinyasa yoga, restorative yoga, classical yoga, hatha yoga and yoga nidra. See our yoga class schedule or find the location of our yoga Berlin Kreuzberg studio.

Aug 22nd Community Class with Sara Hauber

Sara Hauber does ShalabasanaWe’re excited to announce that, on August 22nd, our last community yoga class before the summer break will be taught by visiting functional anatomy specialist and yoga teacher Sara Hauber!

If you have frequent back pain and have been told that yoga might help you, or if you’ve noticed that yoga classes actually make your back hurt, then you won’t want to miss our August 22nd Community Class with Sara Hauber, M.A. Sara is a functional movement and anatomy specialist, in addition to being a certified yoga teacher, and she teaches a specialized yoga practice designed to target the common sources of back pain–activating the abdominals, strengthening the back, stretching the hips and relieving the stress associated with an aching back or poor posture. Breathwork (pranayama), yoga asana and meditation will all be included, and the class is suitable for all levels.

The practice will be followed by an optional 30-minute back care lesson, open to all participants who want to join. We will learn the basics of preventative back care and some specific tips on preventing common back injuries in the practice of yoga poses, to help you enjoy yoga in daily life, without pain.

When: Friday, August 22nd, 12h15 – 13h45 (optional extension to 14h15)

Where: English Yoga Berlin yoga studio in Kreuzberg, directions here

Cost: sliding scale, 5euro – 10euro


Sara Hauber, M.A., is a certified yoga teacher and functional-movement specialist whose mission is to help you overcome back pain and feel great through your yoga practice. Since undergoing complete spinal fusion for scoliosis, Sara has been empowering others to transform their bodies, eliminate pain and change their health for the better. She has taught throughout the U.S. and in Southern Italy, and she’s happy to be offering community yoga in Berlin! Check out her website for more information.

English Yoga Berlin is a self-organized collective of yoga teachers specializing in community yoga and yoga in English in Berlin. We offer gentle yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, classical yoga, restorative yoga and yoga nidra. Our focus is on offering accessible, inclusive, affordable and high-quality yoga classes in Berlin. You can see our yoga Berlin Kreuzberg studio schedule here, and read more about us here.

Aging and the Body in Western Yoga Culture


The World Health Organisation estimates that, between 2000 and 2050, the world’s over-60 population will double, bringing the number of elderly people to over 2 billion. That means more elders than children for the first time in human history.

This demographic shift is often portrayed as burdensome, expensive and even threatening. Especially in Western societies, media reports of an aging population carry a certain tone of doom and gloom. Why, in the West, do we fail to value older people? What, exactly, are we avoiding by directing our attention elsewhere? And what, given this is a yoga blog, does this have to do with yoga?

Dying tree in the sunset

One of the slow mental/emotional/spiritual changes that yoga practitioners meet with is the realization that the body is finite. The body is also full of stories; it links us to the past, as well as displaying the present. As you practice, you become more sensitive. You learn to recognize and respect your body’s limits, and to value your body’s messages to you. You learn when to push, how to push wisely and when to back off.

The practice of unifying the physical, spiritual and emotional layers of self is yoga; and the integration of the paths of yoga in daily life hopefully lead one to a higher regard for all life: the widening of the circle of awareness, love and attention. The isolated ego learns to accept its unity with all things, and all things become sacred. This is how yoga benefits the world—it teaches us to remember our interdependency.

It is precisely this all-things-being-sacred that our societies are scrambling to avoid, and this is why, I would argue, we fail to recognize and value older people. Because aging bodies often bear the scars of overwork, stress and isolation more visibly than younger ones, the depiction of older bodies—as well as the depiction of differently-abled or ill bodies—is often studiously avoided, in order to avoid dealing with these uncomfortable social realities. This is a very wide-ranging social trend and it has been, disappointingly but perhaps also understandably, reproduced in the yoga world.

Yoga is not a path to eternal youth, thinness, beauty or flexibility. It’s a highly personal dance with the reality of impermanence. It’s about death as much as it’s about life. Unrealistic images of young, thin, white, female able bodies doing yoga poses have become the norm in the yoga industry, and it has the very sad effect of sidelining this fundamental, potentially revolutionary aspect of the practice. It would be more honest to portray yoga with an image of a rotting piece of wood, or a void of nothingness (…if that could be somehow depicted).

The yoga world could stand to learn a lot from the Japanese practice of Wabi-Sabi. Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic tradition that seeks to celebrate imperfection and impermanence. In contrast to our glorification of youth and perfection (and our avoidance of anything that doesn’t fit into that model), Wabi Sabi teaches us to slow down and appreciate decay, asymmetry and what Leonard Cohen calls the ”crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in”.

So, next time you’re feeling bad about some way in which your body has changed—next time you’re frustrated about having a cold, or being tired, or feeling your bones ache when the seasons change—use it as a moment to value everything you have ever seen in this world. Use it as a moment to consider all of food and water you have consumed in your life, to think of the people who you have known, to remember the places you’ve passed through, to have gratitude for the ways in which you’ve become more interesting and more humble through your life’s challenges and your body’s stories.

Take a moment to practice a gentle yoga of the mind, a yoga that restores and cherishes your body, that celebrates and values your finiteness. Restorative yoga, yoga nidra or a gentle hatha yoga practice are good options if it helps you to do something physical. But, regardless of how you move, consider your frustration as an opportunity to change your expectations of permanence and of perfection. Take it as an opportunity to practice yoga for beginners, which is the most advanced kind of yoga anyways: breathe, release, accept yourself and celebrate that you’re still here.

English Yoga Berlin is a collectively-run studio offering yoga in Berlin. We specialize in accessible, affordable community yoga and we offer vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga, classical yoga and yoga nidra. You can find our schedule of yoga Berlin Kreuzberg classes here. We look forward to practicing with you.

Soundwalk and Flow Meditation Workshop

feeling the cobblestones
feeling the cobblestones

When: Wed. 30. July, 2014 / 18h to 21h
Where: HeileHaus eV / Waldemarstr. 36, HH, 2.OG
Cost: € 15 (reduced rate €7 or more)
…or one stamp on a 5er card or one recuperation

When going from place to place, we often go through the world disconnected from our environment and with closed off senses – looking at mobile devices, listening to music on headphones, or simply with thoughts on other things than the present moment. We rush about, eager to get to the next place, rather than strolling along and observing – not only to what is happening around us, but also ‘within’ us – our physical sensations as well as emotional reactions to what we see, hear, feel, taste.

When we learn to become aware of our own sensations, we are more readily available to react to unforeseen circumstances and make better choices in the moment. This practice is often called ‘mindfulness,’ and it’s something that we learn to do during exercises of being present, ie; meditation, yoga and tai chi.

This workshop takes us out of a Berlin yoga studio and into the city (around Kottbusser Tor) for an outdoor walking excursion, practicing awareness of our surroundings, and ourselves within them. It blends together several traditions – Vipassana Walking Meditation, Vinyasa Yoga Flow, Chi Yoga and Soundwalking.

What is a Soundwalk?

A form of interactive audio-art where the audience member participates on a walk of a predetermined path set-out by the artist, either listening to a recording on a mobile device or listening to the environment. This workshop will draw from the variation developed by Hildegard Westercamp, which very much resembles Vipassana walking meditation, with a focus on silent observation of the present moment. Despite being called a “soundwalk,” people who are deaf, non-hearing or with limited hearing are encouraged to participate using other senses.

What is walking meditation?

Vipassana walking meditation and Buddhist walking meditation are two forms of walking meditation where the participant strolls along, silently observing their own way of walking, the details of their surroundings (like the sensation of cobblestones beneath their feet), as well as their own feelings in relation to them.

What is Chi Yoga?

Craig Perkins, a yoga teacher trainer and tai chi practitioner of the Yandara Yoga Institute developed a standing warrior sequence, specifically for practising yoga asana on the sand, that combines some tai chi movements with vinyasa flow yoga. His ideology towards yoga is as an anusara-inspired peaceful warrior – meditation, movement and balance in readiness for whatever comes.

The workshop facilitator:
Juli has been teaching vinyasa yoga since 2009 in Berlin, a practitioner of different traditions of yoga since 1998. She is also a filmmaker and sound designer, and has instructed media arts classes that often include soundwalks.

If you are interested in attending the workshop, please contact us to reserve your spot, and get more details on the workshop page

English Yoga Berlin is a collective of yoga teachers dedicated to providing community yoga in Berlin. We offer yoga classes in English, and we teach hatha yoga, classical yoga, restorative yoga, vinyasa yoga and yoga nidra. You can see our schedule here.

Practicing Yoga When You Have Chronic Pain

Untitled-5People are often surprised that I have chronic pain, because I am a y
oga teacher and the two are somehow supposed to cancel each other out. If only it were so simple! In my life, it’s been a more nuanced relationship—I got into yoga because of chronic back 

pain (and a whole host of attendant emotional and psychosocial issues), and my practice has, over the years, both helped me and hindered me in coping with pain and injury. When it’s helped me, it’s been because it has helped me to relax, centre, clear away my mental chatter, calm my nerves, and teach me to tune in to my body’s needs and capacities on any given day. When it’s hindered me, it’s been because of a combination of my own unrealistic expectations of myself and a culture of yoga classes that emphasizes fast and hard yoga asana practice, rather than slowness, deliberation and boundaries. Overall, though there have definitely been bumps along the way, yoga (and all different types of yoga, including yoga asanas, yoga nidra, hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, pranayama and meditation) has helped me enormously.

I picked up some tips along the way, and would like to share them with other people who have pain, limited mobility or (dis)ability issues. This is what I have learned about practicing yoga with chronic pain—I hope it’s helpful to you and good luck on creating a style of yoga that fits and nurtures you.

Select Your Teachers Carefully
Unfortunately, many yoga teachers aren’t actually trained in the kinds of modification and adjustment you might need. This isn’t their fault—it’s because the standard of training (the 200h training that most teachers have) doesn’t address injury and limited mobility adequately. Someone with a 500h training may have more knowledge, but may also not. The best thing is to find a teacher who, through their own practice and teaching, has had injuries themselves or has made it a priority to learn about injury. Look for a teacher with a lot of experience; it’s also great if they are trained as a physiotherapist, massage therapist or other bodyworker, or if they have connections to such practitioners that they can recommend to you. Such a person might also not be working in a yoga studio, but rather giving yoga classes in a different setting. (This is because studios are often run on a very specific profit-maximizing and class-stuffing business model, and people who’ve been teaching for many years are often not compatible with it!) Most important of all is to find a teacher who puts you firmly in the driver’s seat, who gives you the information and then allows you to decide how far to go with it.

Select Your Style Thoughtfully
There are many different types of yoga. I would encourage you to try a few different styles, and then select what you need on any given day or week. Yoga benefits you in many different ways. For example, if you are having a pain flare, you might find restorative yoga or some other gentle yoga to be most helpful. If you’re feeling anxious, you might want something with more movement, or more meditation. I would suggest starting with slower styles—like Hatha Yoga or Classical Yoga. Chair yoga is also a great option for people with limited mobility. When you feel that you know your own body’s preferences and limits, you can try a more dynamic style (like Vinyasa Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga). Be careful with hot yoga, or with very fast-paced yoga classes; they can be a lot of fun, but it’s often challenging to listen to your own boundaries in such environments. It’s easy to overdo it and aggravate pre-existing problems.

Do Your Research
Don’t rely on a teacher to know what your body needs or shouldn’t do; It’s great if s/he can inform you, but it’s ultimately your responsibility. You’ll feel more empowered if you actively search for information, and then can make better decisions. If, for example, you have hyper-mobile shoulder joints or a slipped disc, it’s a good idea to ask your other healthcare practitioners about particular movements that might be dangerous for you. Of course, ask your yoga teacher, too—but don’t rely solely on their opinion.

If You Need To, Do Your Own Thing In Class
So, let’s say you have some disc issues in your lower back. And let’s say your teacher is teaching a lot of forward bends on a particular day, because other students are interested in learning them. And let’s say that, due to your research, you know that forward bends are something with which you should be careful. You can start by modifying the postures (and asking the teacher for ideas about how to do so). But, you know what? If you modify and it still hurts or feels like too much, just don’t do it. Feel free to rest in Savasana until the sequence is over, or do some other asana or pranayama while the other students are bending forward. A good teacher will support you in this, and won’t take it personally. Remember, it’s your time and your practice—do what’s best for you.

Practice Alone—It Will Help You Learn Your Boundaries Honestly
We’re social animals and we all like to feel part of the group. Unfortunately, when the group is moving in a specific way and you can’t follow, it’s very common to try and push and see if maybe you can get there today. Everyone with chronic pain or disability issues knows these thoughts. If they come up for you in yoga classes (and they often will, even in very gentle yoga or yoga for beginners classes), the best way to counter them is to balance your yoga studio practice with home practice. Then, with time and space, you can figure out what works for you, and you can come to a class prepared to respect and love your body’s limits.

Share Your Feelings About It
When you feel isolated, frustrated, invisible, hurt—find a way to let it out. Part of the journey of dealing with pain is learning to share it, verbalise or otherwise express it. Pain is often a silencing and isolating experience, and making it a social experience lessens the burden drastically. You might want to let your teachers know. You might not. It’s entirely up to you, how and with whom you share your emotions, but that you do share in some way is a very important part of learning to cope with your body’s limitations, negotiate this in relationships and celebrate what you do have and how great it is.

If you are looking for injury-, pain- and disability-aware yoga in Berlin, please don’t hesitate to contact us or drop into a class. We offer yoga nidra, hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga and classical yoga, in small classes with experienced teachers. You can see our yoga Berlin Kreuzberg schedule here.


I’m No Barbie-Girl

Mighty JuliThe trajectory of yoga over the centuries has seen a variety of different practices, styles, and approaches. What was originally a method of exercise for elite, higher-caste men in order to sit longer in meditation to achieve enlightenment has been co-opted and altered for western consumption. We’re working on a more in-depth blog about this, so keep posted! But right now, I’d like to address the dichotomy in contemporary western yoga of body-image.

In our contemporary western understanding of what yoga means, we express terms like “union” or “connection” – to describe the approach of connecting mind and body, and sometimes soul. This is a very different approach than the traditional practice that Patanjali outlined of seeing the body as an abject material object to discard on the way to god-like status. Western yoga has adopted a mind-body approach whose history leads all the way back to the ancient greek philosophers, and is inspired by the American movement of transcendentalist individualism, illustrated by the romantic poetic works of Walt Whitman and D. H. Lawrence, and philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau.

Through these influences, westernized yoga had the potential to liberate us from the constrains of western culture’s obsession with attaining the perfect body ideal. It was headed on that track. Instead, through an explosion of commercialization beginning at the end of the last century, it has fed right into it. Today in the west, the most common image of a yoga practitioner is a skinny, feminine white woman in an impossibly-twisted position, wearing skin-tight trendy clothing. Where does that leave the rest of us who could benefit from a yoga practice that professes “freedom” and “body love?” Is freedom only available for those who can afford to purchase its accessories or strict food regimes, or for those who are impossibly flexible or skinny, or those who fit into racist standards of beauty? In her essay published in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice: A critical examination of yoga in North America, Melanie Klein writes about how she first got interested in yoga to help heal from the negative body-image that led her to anorexia, and then later as yoga bloomed into a full-forced commercial industry with yoga models at the forefront, she found it feeding back into those old thought patterns.

The industry behind the commodification of yoga is selling an impossible body-image back at us in order to sell more products, and make us feel dependent on material goods by creating feelings of low self-worth amongst yoga practitioners. I’ve heard other yoga teachers say that they don’t drink beer because it gives them a thick belly, or they talk about fat-burning yoga classes. It’s a shame that a practice that is supposed to be about loving one’s body has come to such body shaming proportions. The culture claims that fat is unhealthy, but they ignore the fact that so many people starve themselves, or exercise vigorously, or modify their bodies in order to look more like the image they see in magazines. In the west, we are taught to have control over our bodies, not love them. I love good food, and refuse to count calories. I also like to drink a few beers now and then. I refuse to comply with ridiculous expectations of what I should look like as a yoga teacher. At one point in my life, I tried to live up to these standards, but never succeeded, of which I’m glad. We can’t all look like Barbie, no matter how hard we try. I personally feel that carrying a little bit more weight feels healthier and stronger to me than when I was much skinnier. And it’s a misconception that bigger bodies cannot be flexible or strong. I’ve seen people much bigger than myself do a fierce ashtanga class.

I’d like to be able to say that I’m never ashamed of my body, but I am not outside the influence of societal pressure. There are some days when I look in the mirror and wish my belly was flatter, my legs less hairy, but most days I let it hang out, completely unfettered. And I love it the most when I walk into a yoga class and see it filled with people of all shapes, shades, sizes, and genders. I hope that my bodily expression is something that helps them feel more comfortable in seeing something of themselves reflected in the person guiding them through the class. My kind of yoga is one where people can work towards feeling comfortable residing in their bodies and minds, not controlling them, but feeling good about themselves as they are, and letting go of oppressive ideals and expectations.

Juli teaches Vinyasa Flow and Restorative Yoga at English Yoga Berlin.

Shiatsu for Yoga and Self-Massage

Shiatsu (which means, literally, ‘finger pressure’) is a Japanese preventative manual therapy technique. In Shiatsu massage, vertical pressure (usually from the fingertips or palms) is applied to various points on the body—found using both anatomical knowledge and meridian knowledge—to produce wellness and ‘flow’ within the body’s energy systems. Pressure is usually applied, in order to guide energy through the body and clear blocked channels.

Many of us use these points unconsciously: when people feel pain in their bodies, they often naturally squeeze, massage and apply pressure to the area. This stimulates blood circulation, increases awareness (and thereby ability to respond to pain) and supports the metabolism of healing in the affected area. Shiatsu is especially successful in treating things like neck pain, but can also be used to deal with allergiesheadaches,  chronic pain, exhaustion and all sorts of other problems you might have. Plus, it just feels really nice.

image taken from shiatsu-brighton.com

Learning a few Shiatsu points on your own body is a wonderful way to add a special level of care and support to your yoga practice. You can practice Shiatsu points regularly, and then use them in stressful situations as part of emotional first aid! In our English yoga classes at English Yoga Berlin, we integrate this teaching, step by step, so that students can slowly begin to learn their own bodies areas of strength and weakness, and thereby develop a highly personalized practice that meets their own health needs. Here is a blog discussing how Shiatsu and Yoga can complement each other, from a student’s perspective.

Two very useful points that relieve anxiety, exhaustion, sore eyes, neck tension, jaw ache and shoulder pain are Heavenly Pillar and Heavenly Rejuvenation. Heavenly Pillar is located on both sides of the neck, about one finger-width below the base of the skull and about one finger width on either side of the neck. Heavenly Rejuvenation is located on the shoulders, midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulders, about 2cm below the top of the shoulders. Here is a graphic that shows both points.

The most important part of self massage is listening to your own body, so breathe deeply while you try finding these points and, when you find a point that feels good, stay there and apply gentle pressure. You might feel the point radiating outwards, into the muscles surrounding it. That’s a good sign. You don’t want to hurt yourself, so only press as firmly as you need to in order to feel a nice sensation. It’s recommended to press for about 1 minute—but feel free to stay longer if it feels good!

2 ways to get free yoga classes this Springtime…

photo by fernTo celebrate the longer days and the budding green leaves, we are offering a special Springtime gift to all people looking for English yoga classes in Berlin!

1) When you purchase a 5er / 10er card or a monthly membership, you will get a free class. You can use your free class anytime before April 31, 2014, to attend any of our Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow Yoga, Classical Yoga or Restorative Yoga classes in our Berlin Kreuzberg studio. You are also welcome to donate your free class to a friend–just let us know!

Check out our schedule, and a map of how to find us.

2) Additionally, we are searching for some friendly and enthusiastic people to help us with leafleting, photography and cleaning in exchange for classes. If you are interested, send us an email explaining why you would be a good work exchange yogi and your dates and times of availability, and we’ll get in touch!